Shortage of rain, less agricultural land, and foreign imports have created the perfect storm for the island’s tubers.
Over a decade, Malta potato exports fell from 7,200 tonnes in the 2004 crop to just 3,100 tonnes in 2014, a massive 56 per cent drop.
This relentless decline of potato cultivation in Malta was documented in an overview of the agricultural sector in the national 2018-2028 policy that described export levels falling “drastically” in 2015 and 2016 due to the shortage of rainfall.
Even the area dedicated for the cultivation of potatoes in the Maltese islands has declined from 1,100 hectares in 2004 to 700 hectares in 2014.
During the same period, the total estimated volume of potatoes produced by Maltese farmers fell from 22,783 tonnes to 12,559 tonnes: a drop of 44 per cent.
The writing has been on the wall since 2009 when National Statistics Office figures showed that in the four years following Malta’s accession to the European Union, the area dedicated to the cultivation of potatoes declined from 1,207 hectares in 2003 to just 712 hectares in 2007: a decline of 41 per cent.
Land dedicated to potato cultivation decreased from 820 hectares in 2005 to 712 hectares in 2007, and to just 689 hectares in 2013.
At that time, government officials said the decline was the direct result of the EU’s higher standards of consumer protection which prevented the export of low-grade potatoes. But the decline continued in subsequent years, according to the policy review, which also shows that very little has been done in the past years to boost the sector.
Assistance from the Special Market Policy Programme for Maltese Agriculture reached €22 million over a period of 10 years, but came to an end in 2014.